From despair, joy

 

by

Beth R.

 

 

The Persian Gulf …..

 

“Mission accomplished!” Lee shouted, as a series of powerful explosions was heard in the background.  “Lab destroyed.  ….. militia ….. coming fast!  ….. get out ….. hide,” he continued breathlessly, his voice fading in and out with the transmission.  “…..ONI ….. scientists ….. weren’t evacuated ….. still ….. Damn! ….. they’ve homed in ….. signal ….. ”  Then abruptly, “See you in Providence, Harry!”

 

“I read you, Lee.”  But Lee couldn’t hear him.  The line was dead.  All that remained was static.

 

Nelson sprang into action.  He pulled a folded piece of paper out of his breast pocket and shoved it into Chip’s hand.

 

“Mr. Morton – flank speed – these coordinates – now!

 

“Aye, Sir!”

 

“Sparks.  Get me the USS Abraham Lincoln.  She’s in the Gulf.  Captain Matt Gaines.  He’s expecting my call.”

 

“Right away, Sir.”

 

Within seconds, Captain Baines was on the line.

 

“Harry, what’s happened?”

 

“Matt. I need your help.  Lee’s in trouble.  He was able to destroy the weapons laboratory, but the team of scientists and their families were still there.”

 

“The Pentagon granted them asylum weeks ago,” Baines countered.  “Weren’t they supposed to arrange the evacuation?”

 

“That was ONI’s job,” fumed Nelson.  “And their bungling has put Lee’s life in danger yet again!”  The Admiral struggled to compose himself.  “I’m sorry, Matt.  There’ll be time to point fingers later.  Right now, I just want Lee back alive.  It won’t be long until that whole area is swarming with terrorists.  Lee’s last words to me were, ‘I’ll see you in Providence, Harry.’  That’s our cue.  This is now a rescue mission.”

 

“Understood.  We’re on our way.”

**********

 

The early morning fog smothered the coastal wetlands, providing cover for Seaview’s landing party.  One stealth helicopter from the Abraham Lincoln, impervious to radar, loaded with medical personnel and supplies, landed on the beach; another hovered offshore.

 

Nelson and Sharkey circled the still smoldering remains of the research station. Lee had done his job well.  The building was completely destroyed.

 

“Looks like your friendly, neighborhood militia had quite a party,” Sharkey said sarcastically, shuffling through hundreds of spent rifle shells on the beach.

 

“They haven’t been gone long, either,” Nelson countered, crouching down and sifting through the remains of a makeshift bonfire.  “These ashes are still hot.”  The Admiral rose to his feet, brushed off his hands and wiped his brow.  Even at this hour the heat and humidity were stifling.

 

But where was Lee?  And the others?  Lee’s radio signal had been intercepted and effectively scrambled.  They had no idea where he was – or even if he was still alive.

 

“This is one hell of a place for a weapons laboratory,” grumbled Sharkey.

 

“Actually, Chief, it’s the perfect place,” said Nelson.  “Hidden, isolated, inaccessible …..  surrounded by a ‘moat’ of swamps.  Ideal, if you don’t want the rest of the world – or your own people – knowing what you’re doing.”

 

“If the location doesn’t keep people away, the smell sure will!  What is that?”

 

“A combination of things, I suspect,” the Admiral replied.  “Agricultural runoff, chemical spills, oil slicks, human waste.  Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, coastal wetlands have become garbage dumps.”

 

“Well, you won’t find me swimming in …..”

 

“There they are!” someone shouted.

 

Heads turned ….. and not 50 yards away, members of the science team began to emerge from the fog-enshrouded swamps hugging the shoreline.  Slowly, one by one, they staggered into view.  Filthy, dripping wet, dazed.

 

“My God,” the Admiral said, astonished.  “They were literally hiding in plain sight.”

 

But ….. Lee?

 

Then ….. just as shafts of sunlight broke through the mist ….. they saw him.  A tall, slender man with black hair.  Clad only in dark swim trunks.  Shoeless.  Walking slowly, almost aimlessly, weaving unsteadily back and forth, shuffling through the loose sand, barely lifting his feet.  Like the others, his body was streaked with mud, caked with algae and slime.  His hair lay plastered to his head.  The Admiral knew immediately something was terribly wrong.

 

“Lee!” Nelson shouted, breaking into a run.

 

“Thank God,” he whispered into Lee’s ear as he pulled him into a fierce embrace.  But the Admiral felt like he was holding a statue.  Lee’s body was stiff and cold.  Something was wrong.  He slowly pulled away from Lee and held him at arm’s length.

 

“Lee? ….. Lee,” shaking Crane’s shoulders gently.  “Are you alright?”  The Captain didn’t, couldn’t respond.  His face was blank, expressionless.  But it was his eyes.  Lee’s eyes, normally fiery, bright, glowing with their own inner light, were vacant, chillingly lifeless.  “Lee, it’s Nelson.”  The Admiral cupped Lee’s face in his hands and brushed bits of dried mud from his cheeks.  Lee …..”

 

“Admiral, I think he’s in shock,” said Sharkey.

 

Suddenly, Lee moaned, doubled over with pain and vomited.  His legs buckled and he fell to his knees, made helpless by severe abdominal cramps.  The Admiral knelt down beside him and wrapped his arms around Lee’s shoulders, supporting his upper body.  Nelson could only hang on as Lee, heaving, gasping for air, surrendered to convulsive waves of debilitating nausea.

 

“Admiral? ….. Admiral Nelson?”  The Admiral looked up to see one of the science team, wrapped in a blanket, being rushed toward the waiting helicopter by a Navy medic.

 

“Captain Crane ….. he  ….. he’s been sick since last night.  Swamp ….. the water was foul ….. polluted ….. ”

 

“But, what happened to him?  Why is he ….. ?”

 

“The Captain saved our lives!” the man cried over his shoulder as he was hustled aboard the chopper.  And though the Admiral wouldn’t remember until later, at that moment a corpsman ran by, carrying a small, black bodybag.

 

Gradually, the spasms subsided, leaving Lee breathless and trembling.  Nelson slowly eased him into a sitting position but, too weak to hold himself erect, Lee simply collapsed into the Admiral.  Holding Lee against his chest, the Admiral pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and gently wiped splotches of bile and spittle from Lee’s mouth and chin.

 

Sharkey grabbed a blanket and bottled water from a passing corpsman.  He bundled the blanket around the Captain as Nelson raised an opened bottle to Lee’s mouth, allowing him small yet frequent sips. 

 

A young Navy lieutenant approached them.  “Admiral, all of the survivors are on board.  We’re ready to lift off.  Can we assist you?”

 

The Admiral shook his head.  “I think we can manage.”  Then, “Oh, Lieutenant? ….. thank you.  Tell your Skipper I owe him one.”

 

“It was our pleasure, sir.  And I’ll relay your message to Captain Baines.”  The Lieutenant saluted smartly, turned on his heels and sprinted to the helicopter.

 

“Lee, can you stand? ….. Lee?  Chief, give me a hand.”  Firmly grasping Lee’s upper arms, Nelson and Sharkey brought the captain slowly to his feet.

 

“Let’s go, Lee.  Nice and easy,” Nelson soothed.  Seaview is waiting for us.”

 

**********

 

The Admiral entered Sickbay just as Jamie pulled an IV needle from Lee’s arm and a corpsman pushed the BodyScan back against the wall.  Lee lay on a gurney, motionless, dressed only in pale-green scrubs pants.  Nelson walked slowly to his side.  Physically, Lee looked very much like himself.  Scrubbed clean, his caramel-colored skin had regained a bit of its warm glow, and vigorous shampooing had revived his still-damp curly hair.  But his eyes – open, yet unseeing – were slate gray, cool and distant.

 

“Thank you, Frank,” Jamie said to his assistant.  “Why don’t you take a break, get some coffee.”

 

The corpsman nodded at the doctor, solemnly acknowledged the Admiral and walked quietly out of Sickbay.

 

The Admiral looked at Jamie expectantly.

 

“Admiral, the Captain’s condition is not due to physical trauma,” the doctor said as he helped Lee sit up.  “There is no evidence of concussion, broken bones, bullet wounds, puncture wounds or internal injuries.”  He referred to a clipboard hanging at the end of the gurney.  “We’ve administered fluids, antibiotics and anti-nausea meds intravenously.  He drank – and kept down – about 12 ounces of water.”

 

“Has there been any sign of ….. ?”

 

Jamie shook his head.  “I’m sorry Harry.”

 

The Admiral rested one hand on Lee’s bare shoulder, the other on his forearm.  How could he be with Lee ….. stand next to him ….. touch him ….. and feel only an emptiness, a void.  What made Lee unique – his intelligence, strength, humor and kindness – was locked away, hidden, out of reach.  Suddenly, the Admiral felt very alone.

 

 I’ll take care of Lee now,” Nelson announced softly.  He reached for the yellow terrycloth robe piled at the foot of the bed and wrapped it around Lee’s shoulders.

 

Jamie smiled knowingly.  “You’ll call if you need help ….. ”

 

The Admiral nodded, put his arm firmly around Lee’s waist and slowly guided him from the room.

 

**********

 

The Captain’s cabin ….

 

Nelson eased Lee into his desk chair.

 

“All right, Captain, let’s get you to bed.”

 

The Admiral opened Lee’s wardrobe and collected a pair of clean briefs and a set of soft, white pajamas.  “You’re closet is just too neat,” Nelson teased.  “You make the rest of us look bad.

 

Three pairs of white pajamas?  A little conservative, don’t you think?” he continued, chatting casually.  “We’ll have to do something about that.  Perhaps Meg* can ….. ”  The Admiral stopped and shook his head.  “Can you believe it?  I’m talking to myself.”

 

The Admiral pulled Lee to his feet and slid the bathrobe off his shoulders. 

 

“I’m glad you won’t remember this,” the Admiral muttered, gingerly reaching for the waistband of Lee’s scrubs.  “You would be mortified.  Suddenly, he found Lee’s long, slender fingers resting lightly on top of his own.  Was it a simple reflex action?  Or was Lee subconsciously reaching out to him?

 

“Thank you, Lee,” Nelson chuckled.   “Thank you for showing me you’re still in there.”  He squeezed Lee’s hands gently.  “Don’t worry.  I’ll do everything I can to preserve your dignity – and mine.”

 

**********

 

Nelson quietly closed the cabin door behind him and slumped against it.

 

“Admiral – is Lee alright?”  Nelson looked up to see Jamie walking urgently toward him.

 

“Are you all right?” he added, when he saw the expression on the Admiral’s face.

 

Nelson’s eyes shimmered with emotion and, though fleeting, his smile was bittersweet.

 

“Lee is such a strong, proud man ….. ”

 

 “….. and to see him so vulnerable, so helpless?”  Jamie paused.  “You know, Admiral, as men …. as fathers ….. we don’t see ourselves caring for an adult child ….. a son ….. when he is sick or injured.  Bathing him ….. dressing him ….. putting him to bed …..  watching over him at night.  But, Harry, do you realize what an amazing gift you are giving Lee?  The gift of compassion …. of love.  Though he’s still in shock, still unable to communicate, I believe, I know, that you are reaching some part of him.

 

 “Come on.  Let’s go back to Sick Bay,” Jamie said, pulling the Admiral away from Lee’s cabin.   “I’ve just brewed a fresh pot of coffee.  We’ll check on him in an hour.”

 

**********

 

“Physically, he’s going to be fine,” Jamie said wearily as he sat down at his desk in Sickbay.  “Oh, thanks, Harry,” he sighed gratefully, as Nelson placed a steaming mug of coffee in front of him.  “Like the others, he’s suffering from exposure, dehydration and exhaustion.  And, he’s running a fever.  Not surprising, considering the bacterial soup they were hiding in.  But emotionally…..?”  Jamie hesitated, sipping his coffee.  “I don’t know.  Whatever happened out there ….. Lee’s conscious mind couldn’t accept it. 

 

“Sometimes, when the mind is subjected to extreme trauma, it shuts down.  To protect itself.  Giving the patient time to recover, time to regain the strength needed to face the memory.”

 

“How long ……?”

 

Doc shrugged and shook his head.  “There’s no way of knowing.  It could be several hours - or several days.  When Lee is ready.”

 

**********

 

A few hours later …..

 

Lee lay as the Admiral had left him.  In a dreamless, exhausted sleep.

 

But then, a voice floated through his unconscious ….. gentle, warm, loving.

 

“Lee ….. Lee ….. don’t be afraid.  You’re safe now ….. aboard Seaview ….. and in my arms.  Do you feel my arms around you?  Don’t be afraid to remember .….”

 

“Meg,” he murmured.*

**********

 

The Admiral quietly entered Lee’s cabin, the subdued light from the corridor spilling into the darkened room. The bed was empty, the covers pushed back, Lee’s bathrobe still lay across the foot of the bed.  Instantly, the Admiral knew where Lee was.  He grabbed the bathrobe and headed for the Observation Nose.

 

**********

 

The Control Room was bathed in soft, low, nighttime lighting.  With the ship on autopilot, few stations were manned.  The constant hum of the computers, the gentle, yet insistent ping of the sonar, the muted voices of the crew ….. comfortable, familiar, almost soothing to the Admiral as he entered from the aft hatch.  He immediately looked toward the Observation Nose. 

 

Lee was there.  Standing in the shadows.  Facing the sea.

 

“Good evening, Admiral,” Kowalski said quietly, as Nelson approached the sonar station.

 

“Good evening, Kowalski.”  Nelson nodded toward the bow.  “How long has the Captain been here?”

 

“Oh, a little over an hour, Sir.  But ….. he hasn’t moved ….. or made a sound.”

 

“Mmmm.”   Then, “Status of the boat?”

 

“It’s a quiet night, Sir.”  Kowalski hesitated as he followed Nelson’s eyes forward. 

 

“Admiral ….. is there anything I can do to help?”

 

Nelson smiled and shook his head.  “It appears the Captain is beginning to help himself.”

 

Nelson walked slowly to the front of the ship.  He smoothed his hand across Lee’s back as he reached his side.  Lee wore only his white pajamas, the collar bent crookedly against his neck, the top buttons undone.  His feet were bare.  One hand was pressed against the glass. His eyes were dark and haunted, his cheeks streaked with tears.

 

He was crying.  Soundlessly.

 

“You remember,” Harry said simply.

 

Lee nodded.  “Yes,” he whispered.

 

“Can you tell me?”

 

The Admiral hesitated ….. then placed a hand lightly on Lee’s shoulder. 

“Tell me about the baby, Lee,” he coaxed gently.

 

Lee slowly turned and looked at the Admiral in astonishment.  “How did you know?”

 

“I didn’t – until just now,” Nelson smiled sadly.  “But ….. I had a feeling.  There was only one casualty that day.”

 

Lee turned back to the sea, lowered his head and closed his eyes.  He began to shiver, uncontrollably, wrapping his arms around himself for warmth.

 

“Hey, hey ….. come on, sit down,” said Nelson, as he took Lee’s arm and steered him toward a chair.  The Admiral draped the bathrobe over Lee’s shoulders and sat down next to him.

 

“You hid in the swamp ….. ” Nelson prompted.

 

Lee nodded.  Softly, haltingly, he began.  “Hours …. the hours.  No fresh water ….. nothing to eat.  The water reeked ….. of ….. sewage, chemicals, rotting plants.  It was hot ….. so hot ….. no protection from the sun ….. the glare.  

 

“At first, the baby slept.  We took turns holding him, rocking him.  We made a ‘nest’ in the mangroves with my wetsuit ….. to keep him ….. out of the water.  But later ….. we tried everything ….. he wouldn’t stop crying.  The others …. became angry.  At the baby ….. at his mother ….. demanding she keep him quiet. 

 

“But she couldn’t.  How could she?  He was miserable ….. frightened.  We all were.  The soldiers …. so close ….. we were right under their noses.  They went crazy ….. firing their weapons ….. into the air ….. anywhere, everywhere.  Yelling, screaming ….. vowing revenge …..

 

“I don’t know when ….. or how long ….. um ….. I think it was dark ….. was it?  I ….. I don’t remember.  But she ….. she ….. ”  Lee’s voice dropped to a whisper.  “Her eyes!  I can’t forget her eyes! ….. she ….. lowered the baby into the water ….. all the way ….. until he was  ….. gone.  And ….. he didn’t struggle.  Why didn’t he struggle?  Just ….. bubbles ….. then ….. nothing.

 

“Admiral ….. she drowned the baby….. she killed her own son to save the rest of us!”

 

Nelson sat in shock, the power of Lee’s grief striking him like a physical blow.

 

“Lee, I am so sorry,” he said softly.  “The death of a child ….. the enormity of the loss ….. of the sacrifice ….. how does one ….. ?”

 

The Admiral struggled to find the right words.  “Lee, we can’t know why fate demanded that child be sacrificed.  We can’t know why you were meant to bear witness to his death. 

 

“That little boy is irreplaceable, his loss profound.  If he had lived, would he have changed the world?  Perhaps.  We will never know.  But his death ensured the survival of thirteen equally priceless souls.  Including one who means a great deal to me.

 

“Grieve for that child, Lee,” he said more firmly.  “Grieve for his mother ….. for a country, a people who live with such suffering every day.  I share your sorrow.”

 

The burden of his story – now told – lifted from Lee’s weary shoulders.  The shadow of despair began to fade from his eyes.  His trembling eased and some color returned to his cheeks.  He had faced what happened.  And survived. 

 

Lee locked eyes with the Admiral’s.  “He won’t be forgotten, Harry,” Lee vowed.  “His death cannot have been in vain.  But ….. what can I do?  How can I make his life – and death – have meaning?”

 

“The only thing you can do.  Live your life well,” Nelson said simply.  “With compassion, honor and integrity.  The way you always do.”

 

The Admiral leaned forward and rested a hand on Lee’s knee.  “Heaven forgive my selfishness,” he said softly, “but thank God I’m not grieving the loss ….. of my son.”

 

**********

 

The Captain’s cabin …..

 

“I’ll raise you 10,” Chip said as he pushed 10 peanut M&M’s to the center of Lee’s desk.

 

“Mmmm.”  The Admiral looked warily at Chip and then back at his own cards.  “I’ll see your 10 and raise you ….. 20 more,” he said confidently, pushing a mound of candy into the pot.

 

Then ….. a gentle rustling of bed linens ….. and a soft, hoarse voice from the sleeping alcove ….

 

“Who’s winning?”

 

“Lee, you’re awake!” said the Admiral happily.   “How do you feel?”

 

Lee pushed back the covers, stiffly slipped his legs over the side of the bed and sat up with a groan.

 

“I’m not sure,” he said frowning, pulling his hand back and forth through his hair.  “A little like Rip van Winkle.  What time is it?” he asked, rubbing the sleep from one eye with the back of his hand.  “How long have I been asleep?”

 

“It is now ….. 0230,” the Admiral said, checking the clock on Lee’s desk.   “And you’ve been asleep for about ….. oh ….. 19 hours.”

 

“You’re kidding,” said Lee in disbelief.

 

“You were exhausted, Lee,” said Nelson.  “And the good doctor insisted we let you wake on your own.”

 

“Mmmm.”  Lee slid off the bed and shuffled lazily to the desk.

 

“Room for one more?” he asked casually, taking a handful of M&M’s from Chip’s pile and popping a few into his mouth.

 

“Hey, those are my winnings!” Morton scolded.

 

“Oops.  Sorry.  I think there’s another bag in the bottom drawer of ….. ”

 

“Nope.  These are those.”

 

“I should have known.”  Lee circled the desk and eased himself into his chair.   “OK, deal me in.”  As if it was completely normal finding Chip and the Admiral playing poker ….. in his cabin ….. at 2:30 in the morning ….. using peanut M&M’s as poker chips.

 

“Is anyone else hungry?” Lee asked, rubbing his growling stomach.  “I could really go for a chocolate shake and grilled cheese sandwich.”

 

As if on cue, there was a light knock on the door.  Lee frowned.  “Who could that be at this hour?”  Chip rose to open the door.  It was Cookie - with a tray of chocolate milkshakes and grilled cheese sandwiches.

 

“Cookie!” Lee sighed.  “You read my mind.”

 

“Don’t I always?” the cook replied smugly.

 

“Triple chocolate?” Lee asked expectantly.

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“Mozzarella on rye?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Good man!”

 

**********

 

As the three men finished eating …..

 

Chip caught Nelson’s eye and gestured toward Lee.

 

“Now there’s a serious poker player,” Chip deadpanned. Both men looked intently at Lee, barely able to contain their amusement.

 

“What?” asked Lee innocently, wide-eyed, puzzled at their scrutiny, the last bite of his sandwich tucked into his cheek.

 

Lee’s eyes were soft from sleep and, in the low light of the desk lamp, his long lashes cast delicate, lace-like shadows on his cheeks.  His hair was a disheveled mass of curls, his voice still gravelly.  Lee’s oversized, white pajama top had slipped to the side, exposing the smooth, tan skin of one shoulder. It was not often one saw the Captain of the Seaview so rested and relaxed.

 

“It’s the hair,” Nelson said matter-of-factly, enjoying this seldom-seen side of Lee’s personality.

 

“Uh-huh.  Definitely the hair,” Chip agreed, nodding seriously.

 

Almost as one, the three men burst out laughing.  Not entirely comfortable being the center of attention, Lee lowered his eyes, his cheeks flushing slightly.

 

“You’re just jealous,” he mumbled.

 

“No doubt,” Chip teased.  “All right, gentlemen, let’s play.  Joker’s wild …..”

 

After the cards were dealt …..  and before the first hand was played …..

 

“Admiral?  Chip?” Lee said quietly, acknowledging each man. “Thank you.”

 

Nothing more needed to be said.  For in their eyes, he saw friendship, caring and love.

 

The Admiral reached for Lee’s shoulder and squeezed it affectionately.  “Welcome home, Lee.”

 

Epilogue

 

It had been 36 hours since Seaview received the first distress call.  A pleasure ship, carrying 139 passengers and crew, was foundering at the outer edge of a late-season Pacific hurricane.  The Seaview dashed at flank speed to reach the ship, arriving in time to pluck each passenger from its heaving deck.  A few hours later, the submarine slid beneath the tumultuous seas and headed for Santa Barbara.

 

As was customary, the officers and crew gave up their cabins and sleeping quarters to the civilians. The crew themselves strung hammocks, set up cots and spread out sleeping bags in the Missile Room, the Engine Room, anywhere they could grab a few hours of sleep.  The Observation Nose was full of cots for the Control Room officers and crew, and an overflow of several families with small children.

 

When the crew was exhausted …. when Lee was exhausted ….. when the stress of a difficult mission had eased ….. when they were on their way home, Lee shed his “command face” and relaxed.  At such times, Lee’s true gentle and caring nature came through, and the crew enjoyed a glimpse of Lee the man, not just their commanding officer.  No one was exempt from his playful teasing and Lee, of course, was the target of most of Chip’s merciless barbs.

 

The families were settling in for the night, parents arranging bedding, comforting still-frightened children or talking quietly among themselves.  Except for one little girl who could not stop crying.  Her constant sobbing was beginning to take a toll on overwrought parents and weary crew.

 

Lee approached the family and crouched down next to the child and her mother.

 

“Here, let me take her …. I think I can help.”  Lee held out his arms.  “Will you come to me, sweetheart?” he asked the little girl softly.  She reached for him without fear.  He picked her up, rose to his feet and began walking around the Control Room, slowly, stopping at individual stations, showing her the flashing lights and brightly colored dials and gauges, explaining in very simple terms their function. 

 

As they circled the periscope island, Lee noticed the Admiral in the aft hatchway, leaning against the bulkhead, arms crossed, smiling, his blue eyes sparkling.  Lee returned the smile, winked at him and continued the “tour,” turning on the sail camera for a moment to watch the sea swirling around them.  When he introduced the little girl to a crewman, she would grin, then shyly turn and hide her face in the crook of Lee’s neck and shoulder.  It didn’t take long for his soft, soothing voice to work its magic.  She fell asleep in his arms.

 

The Admiral watched Lee in awe, amazed at his strength and resilience.  Emotionally and physically, Lee was still recovering from the ordeal in the Middle East.  But his spirit, his essence, had never wavered.

 

Lee walked back to the Observation Nose and surrendered the child to her mother.

 

“I walk the ship every night,” he confessed.  “It helps me sleep.”

 

**********

 

Lee returned to the plot table and checked the ship’s course and speed.  Satisfied, he slapped Morton on the back, turned toward the aft exit and said, “Chip, she’s all yours.  I’m going to ….. ”  and literally ran into the Admiral.

 

“Admiral, forgive me!  I didn’t realize you were standing …..”

 

“And where do you think you’re going?” interrupted the Admiral suspiciously.

 

“To walk the ship,” Lee replied innocently.

 

“Oh no you’re not.  Not tonight.”

 

“But, Admiral ….. ”

 

“Lee, you’re exhausted.  You’ve been on duty for almost two days.  You can barely keep your eyes open.  And ….. ”  The Admiral peered closely at Lee.  “ ….. do you have a fever again?” he asked, pressing the palm of his hand against the Captain’s forehead.  Lee’s eyes were a bit too bright, his face a bit too pale.

 

“Admiral ….. ” Lee moaned, blushing slightly at Nelson’s public display of fatherly concern.

 

“Ah, yes, Persian Gulf swamp water,” Chip chimed in.  “The gift that keeps on giving.”

 

“Chip …..!”  Lee was beginning to feel outnumbered.

 

“Does Jamie know about this?” demanded Nelson.

 

Before Lee could respond, Chip nodded and, with one hand mimicking a syringe, pressed a forefinger against his upper arm.

 

“Good.”  Then, “Mr. Morton, you have the con.”

 

“As you wish, Admiral,” Chip said, bowing his head formally.  Lee and the Admiral looked at each other with puzzled amusement.

 

“Since that’s the case .…. ” Chip snapped to attention and saluted crisply.  “Captain Crane, as watch commander of this submarine, I order you to bed.”

 

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you, Mr. Morton?” Lee growled.

 

Chip grinned wickedly.

 

“All right, Captain, you heard the man,” said Nelson.  “To bed!”

 

With one hand planted firmly in the middle of Lee’s back, the Admiral pushed him into the Nose, steering him to one of two empty cots situated directly below the observation windows. 

 

“Really, Admiral, I’m fine ….. ”

 

“Good night, Captain,” Nelson said firmly.

 

Lee knew the battle was lost.  Reluctantly, he sat down on the cot, slipped off his shoes and stretched out.  Within seconds, he was asleep, curled up on his left side, his left arm tucked underneath the pillow, the right arm balanced across his hip.

 

This from the guy who wasn’t tired,” grumbled the Admiral as he reached for the blanket folded at the foot of the cot, unfurled it and draped it over Lee.

 

Lee stirred and sighed deeply.  “Thanks, Admiral,” he murmured, burrowing further into the pillow.

 

“Go to sleep,” Nelson chided softly, drawing the blanket up and around Lee’s shoulders.  Suddenly very aware of his own weariness, the Admiral sank down on the cot next to Lee.  It was then he noticed a small girl standing beside him.

 

“Admiral Nelson?” she asked shyly.

 

“Yes, young lady.”

 

“Is Captain Crane your son?”

 

The Admiral smiled, looked at Lee with great affection and said, without hesitation, “Yes.  Yes, he is ….. in every way that matters.”

 

 

 

*The character of Meg and her strong, psychic connection to Lee are introduced in This night begins to change who we are.